House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, have asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to update a 1996 report by re-examining all current systems and subsystems maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that contain retail firearms purchaser data in order to ensure compliance with legal protections against the government amassing data on law-abiding gun owners.
Issa and Grassley wrote, “Under the Gun Control Act, ATF does have responsibility for various law enforcement functions, such as the tracing of firearms. However, given the ambiguity in ATF’s use of the Suspect Gun Database for tracing firearms, it and any other new database should be examined for compliance with ATF’s data restrictions.”
Issa and Grassley began questioning the use of the Suspect Gun Database during their oversight of the gunrunning operation known as Operation Fast and Furious. Even outside of Fast and Furious, ATF routinely uses the database to record firearm and purchaser information on every purchase it considers “suspect.” It is unclear what objective standards, if any, are required to enter purchase information into the database, and it appears that the information is never removed, even though the purchaser may never have been convicted or even accused of a crime. ATF Director B. Todd Jones revealed during his confirmation hearings last summer that ATF has kept purchaser information on all 173,784 firearms added to the database since 1992, including purchaser information from cases that were closed long ago.
A 1996 GAO report addressed whether certain ATF databases complied with the restrictions imposed by Congress to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans who exercise their Second Amendment rights. Grassley and Issa requested the updated report because the Suspect Gun Database was not a part of that review, although Director Jones claimed in his confirmation process that GAO had approved of the use of the database.
A copy of the text of Issa and Grassley letter is below.